From Heavenly Harmony
Ancient Maranatha Music
by Ken Myers
In 1524, two influential Protestant hymnals were published in Germany. The first, edited by Luther and fellow Lutheran pastor Paul Speratus and published in Wittenberg, was a 12-page booklet with only eight hymns. The second larger and more influential volume, the Erfurt Enchiridion, contained 26 hymns, 18 of them by Luther. One of the most enduring of these, the Advent hymn "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland," evidences Luther's genius of reforming rather than disposing of the liturgical tradition of the Church. If you've sung "Savior of the Nations, Come" on one of the Sundays in Advent, you, too, have been a conveyance of a particular treasure within that inheritance, sharing an experience with St. Ambrose, medieval monks, Luther, J. S. Bach, and countless others.
The fourth-century bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, may be best known to contemporary Western Christians as the man who baptized Augustine. Less well-known is his role in enriching the music of the Church. Ambrose recognized the power of hymnody to shape the hearts and minds of faithful believers, as well as to challenge theological errors (his nickname "Hammer of the Arians" was not for naught). He is credited with having promoted antiphonal chant within the liturgy, and a number of hymns are believed to have come from his hand. The best-known of these is "Veni, redemptor gentium," "Come, Redeemer of the nations." By the twelfth century, Ambrose's text was set to a chant melody, to which it was sung for centuries.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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